Hydra. Is there anything else that can set a green mage’s heart so aflutter? Hydras are truly one of the greatest creature types in Magic. They’re rooted in classic Greek mythology and have been a part of Magic since it’s inception with Rock Hydra as the first. These are beings that have monstrous power, are nigh-invulnerable, and champions of all-you-can-eat-buffets. Naturally, as the designer you are, you would want to design one for yourself.

Read on, dear reader, and I will teach you everything you need to know create a brilliant Hydra card. You’ll even have the chance to prove your own design against others in a design contest hosted by 5 Color Combo!

History of the Hydra

The hydra comes from Greek mythology. This snakeheaded-beast embodies all the greatness of true monsters. To put it simply, It lives in a swamp and terrorize villages. According to the legend, Hercules was tasked with slaying the hydra. But even Hercules had difficulty. With every severed head, the hydra grew two more to replace the lost one and on top of that its blood is venomous. After an incredible fight, Hercules finally managed to defeat the hydra by cauterizing each neck after cutting of a head, preventing it from regenerating.

Even with this brief look at the myth, we can see several examples of how it shaped the hydras of Magic.

  • Hydras have many heads, oftentimes represented as +1/+1 counters.
  • Hydras grow from damage.
  • Hydras are difficult to kill, sometimes excessively so.
  • Hydras are monstrously powerful. Many have no limit on how strong they can grow, continuing to do so until a clever opponent can find some way to stop the it outside of straight combat.

Evolution of Hydras

Magic has gone beyond the classical myth and has made hydras into something more unique. They not only represent a monstrous creature, but also a primordial aspect of nature. Here's five ways I've seen it.

  1. Khalni Hydra is the perfect example of this. It doesn’t grow larger and isn’t particularly resistant to being killed (other than being an 8/8) and yet it still has the right feel for a hydra in Magic as it exemplifies a powerful force of nature.
  2. Hydras have the ability to spread their damage around, as shown on Hydra Omnivore and the hydra on Monstrous Onslaught.
  3. Since they are large, difficult to kill, and serve as green’s iconic creature hydras are almost exclusively rare.
  4. Although they began in red, hydras are now green or multicolor with green and another color.
  5. To represent their unbound potential, hydras often have an X in their mana cost and enter the battlefield with X +1/+1 counters on them.

Design Examples

Whenever you're designing from a source, it is always best to begin from a single part of that source. A single clear message resonates more deeply than a thousand muddled messages. So, in the example I will give, each of my designs will focus on a single aspect of the original hydra myth: Regrowing lost heads, being nigh-impossible to fully kill, or having venomous blood.

Since regrowing lost heads is the most recognizable aspect of the hydra, that is the best starting point. I need an ability which converts damage into doubling the hydra’s power. No need to be subtle with a hydra, so here is Relentless Tyrant, a hydra that starts at a respectable size but can quickly grow out of control.

Relentless Tyrant

I'll show an example now that highlights a different aspect. Being difficult to fully kill. Hydras in Magic: the Gathering have a history of turning into other resources when they die. Vastwood Hydra turns into +1/+1 counters and Lifeblood Hydra turns into life and cards to show two examples. I believe there is something more appropriate for a dead hydra to turn into. If a hydra’s head turns into two heads when it dies, it stands to reason that when a hydra itself dies it turns into two other hydras. Allow me to introduce Split-Tongue Overlord, which does just that:

Split-Tongue Overlord

Of course, there’s still the venomous blood to consider. In the myth, Hercules takes the blood from the pool left from cutting off the hydra’s heads. So, the ability should reflect cutting off a head to allow a creature to use the venomous blood. Combining that with the scalable body of a hydra, we get Venomblood Hydra:

Venomblood Hydra

So, what are everyone’s thoughts on hydras? Did I manage to capture their essence perfectly, or are my cards a complete miss? Was there anything I left out about what it means to be a hydra? Either way, I’m eager to hear any feedback, and even more eager to see what hydras you design for the design contest!

A photo of Andrew EvansAndrew Evans

Andrew Evans has been playing Magic since 2000, and designing custom cards since 2007. He's a regular at FNMs, and enjoys dissecting games to figure out how they work.